The last time BoJack Horseman spent any real time with Diane Nguyen, it was in the very last scene of season five, when she dropped BoJack off at rehab and sped off to somewhere else. And while she appeared briefly in both of the previous two episodes, it hasn’t really been clear what she’s actually doing.
“Feel-Good Story” offers an answer. Following a rough season that included two separate ill-advised hookups with her ex-husband, Mr. Peanutbutter, Diane has taken a break from Los Angeles. Right now, she’s traveling the country to shoot videos for GirlCroosh with her cameraman, Guy (Lakeith Stanfield), a bison who has become Diane’s hookup buddy.
“This isn’t real life, it’s summer camp. Temporary. Easy,” says BoJack in one of several letters he writes to Diane over the course of the episode. He’s talking about rehab, but it applies just as neatly to the status of Diane and Guy’s relationship, which consists of having sex, ordering takeout, and generally goofing around in a series of anonymous hotel rooms. There are reminders that both Diane and Guy have actual, complicated lives — in one early scene, Guy fields a phone call from his estranged son — but for now, they’re just enjoying something that feels good for as long as it lasts.
Most of “Feel-Good Story” is set in Guy’s hometown of Chicago. It’s a city that comes with some benefits, like Guy’s favorite sandwich place, as well as some drawbacks — like the sudden, surprise presence of Guy’s son at his apartment, which forces Diane to flee out of a window before he meets her and starts asking questions neither she nor Guy can answer.
As Diane and Guy struggle to figure out whether they actually have potential as a couple, a work problem provides a welcome distraction. Stefani calls with new marching orders: Diane’s videos are too depressing and GirlCroosh wants her to shift toward feel-good content. But when Diane interviews a couple of women who have started a line of toys with realistically proportioned bodies — and learns, to her horror, that the company has been acquired by an evil conglomerate called WhiteWhale — her “feel-good” video turns out pretty depressing anyway.
Many of BoJack Horseman’s bleakest bits of social commentary have come through the eyes of Diane, a principled activist who has either compromised or been crushed when actually confronted by the celebrities and corporations who wield so much more power than she’ll ever have. “Feel-Good Story” is no different. When WhiteWhale learns about Diane’s video, they buy GirlCroosh outright and fold it into a massive, incoherent-sounding new media venture, which enables them to control the framing and the flow of any critical stories about the company. (They call it Spronk, a reference that will not be lost on anyone who follows the real-life media landscape.)
When Diane and Guy resolve to rebel by making a video accusing the CEO of murdering Matt Minnowman, a warehouse worker who died after fighting for workers’ rights, the CEO himself actually encourages the project. His analysis shows that any story alleging that WhiteWhale is evil actually raises the company’s stock value, because investors prefer companies that pursue profits at the expense of morality. Even after Diane accuses him of murdering Matt Minnowman, he happily admits it, revealing that the House of Representatives has passed a law, presumably under heavy lobbying, that allows billionaires to commit murder. “If you want to do something about it, just make a billion dollars and murder me,” he laughs.
So yes, it’s another quixotic battle and another crushing defeat. But as Diane attempts to deal with her rage at her inability to solve any of society’s problems, Guy is casting a smaller net. Throughout the episode, he repeatedly gives Diane his winter jacket whenever she gets cold — a problem she could solve if she’d just get her own jacket. When Guy finally buys her a jacket of her own, Diane picks a fight about it — an echo of the same problem she had with Mr. Peanutbutter, whose attempts at romantic gestures tended to backfire.
So why won’t she just take the jacket? There’s clearly the fear of the commitment it represents, since buying a coat designed for Chicago winters implies that she’ll be spending an extended length of time in Chicago with Guy. But Guy also sees something metaphorical in what he calls her “ideological objection to feeling good” — it’s a stubborn insistence on going it alone, and inflicting needless pain on herself as a way of channeling the pain she feels about the state of the world.
Diane returns to Los Angeles, and Guy stays in Chicago, and it seems like BoJack Horseman is all geared up for another sad ending about how people deliberately reject their own happiness. And then Diane finds another letter from BoJack, which includes one of his own epiphanies from rehab: “I wasted so many years being miserable because I assumed it was the only way to be.”
So Diane calls Guy and tells him a story about when she first moved to Los Angeles, she got so much joy from a simple, private quest to cook the perfect grilled-cheese sandwich. She says it’s been a while since she’s cooked one — and she says she can do it anywhere. Even, presumably, Chicago. It’s as tender and hopeful an ending as BoJack Horseman is likely to give you: You may not be able to remake the world, but you can at least make sure you’re not going through it alone.
• The song that plays over the end credits is Fialta’s “High Over Chicago,” from their 2013 album, Summer Winter.
• She’s barely in the episode, but I’m a big fan of Isabelle, the journalist locked into a lifelong quest to take down WhiteWhale — but who firmly refuses to acknowledge any similarities to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
• WhiteWhale’s rapid-fire portfolio of corporate acquisitions includes Skynet, the technology that leads to Judgment Day in the Terminator franchise.
• The animation in WhiteWhale’s Brad Bird–directed promo video is an homage to the Fleischer Brothers, whose distinctive style has recently resurged in popularity thanks to the video game Cuphead.
• In the BoJack Horseman universe, Chicago has a sports team called the Baby Humans, with a mascot that riffs on that old hoary stereotype about babies drinking bottles of poison. “It’s a tribute to your proud human heritage,” Guy insists.
• An incomplete sample of headlines from the GirlCroosh homepage: “This Little Llama Wants to Destroy Big Pharma,” “Texans and New Yorkers Trade Shoes for a Week,” and “Why the Duplass Brothers Keep Running Across Busy Freeways.”
• The search bar on the GirlCroosh homepage also contains two different queries: “ryan gosling gifs” and “flyin gosling gifs.”
• Diane’s ZIP code puts her Los Angeles address as somewhere in the vicinity of Atwater Village, which sounds about right.
• In addition to a Ruth Bader Ginsburg gif titled “rbg_ftw,” Diane’s desktop apparently contains fan fiction about Kai Ryssdal, the host of the Peabody Award–winning radio program Marketplace.
• Matt Minnowman’s funeral took place at the Holy Mackerel Church. His bio on the dating website Plenty of Fish read: “Just a humble fish seeking to roe my boat.”
• Guy’s place includes a movie poster for the BoJack-ified rom-com Hyena Fidelity, which presumably still takes place in Chicago.
• Eagle-eyed fans of weird liquor will spot the skull-shaped bottle of the Dan Aykroyd–backed Crystal Head Vodka behind a bar.
• A sign that instructs pedestrians to “Follow the Arrow to Madam Parrot’s Tarot” does a nice job highlighting how arbitrary English really is.
• Per BoJack’s letter, Beverly was hoping her secret admirer would turn out to be Mario … which means she’s actually in love with Jay Hernandez.